Guido’s legacy: wishing for a wet weekend


As I write, a gentle rain is trickling down. The chances of having a wet weekend – at least in our neck of the woods – is looking promising. Now, I don’t usually wish for such an occurrence – quite the opposite. But this weekend is different.

A detail from The execution of Guy Fawkes, by Claes Jansz Visscher, in London's National Portrait Gallery.
A detail from The execution of Guy Fawkes, by Claes Jansz Visscher, in London's National Portrait Gallery.

To cut a long story short, November 5 marks Guy Fawkes day – also known as the Gunpowder Plot, a foiled Catholic plan to blow up Parliament House  in 1605. Guy – also known as Guido – Fawkes was at the forefront of the failed plan.

According to Wikipedia, at the trial of Fawkes and the other plotters,  Lord Chief Justice Sir John Popham said each of the 13 condemned men were to be “drawn backwards to his death, by a horse, his head near the ground.  Their genitals would be cut off and burnt before their eyes, and their bowels and hearts removed. They would then be decapitated, and the dismembered parts of their bodies displayed so that they might become ‘prey for the fowls of the air’.”

Fawkes had the foresight to jump from the gallows and break his neck. He was then drawn and quartered, and his body parts distributed to “the four corners of the kingdom”.

Today, Guido and his pals would be shipped off to Guantanamo for questioning about their terrorist activities.

Following the executions, the peasants were “encouraged to celebrate the King’s escape from assassination by lighting bonfires”. From about 1650 on, fireworks accompanied the bonfire, as did a stuffed “guy” on the top. I remember bonfire nights years ago, when the grown-ups would make dummies and label them with the name of the year’s most unpopular politician and stick them on top of the bonfire. Our celebrations were always at my uncle’s place, and almost the entire neighbourhood would show up.

So, why do we still celebrate this 400+ year old tradition in the “colonies”? I suppose it is partly a leftover from when we copied whatever the “old country” did.

But that’s not the problem so much as the multitide of tossers letting off fireworks willy-nilly, endangering animals, property, forestry, and other people.

Fortunately fireworks are no longer on sale weeks before Guy Fawkes, but they can still be let off at any time.

Touch wood, we’ve  never had any problems with our horses and fireworks. However, this year our herd dynamics have changed. We no longer have our three “old hands”, one of whom had seen 30 years’ worth of fireworks. He was a settling influence on the others, not giving a monkeys about anything like that.

This year our herd’s average age has dropped from nearly 22 to seven. They’re in a paddock nearest the likely source of fireworks, and we can’t move them for fear of unsettling them and the horses gorging themselves and the related problems that brings.

We’ve asked our near neighbours their plans for the next couple of nights – thankfully there’s no drama in the pipeline. That’s about all we can do. We can’t guard against the yahoos from the nearby town whose idea of a fun weekend is to drive out “into the country” to let off steam – and fireworks – and throw old takeaway rubbish onto the roadside. In our case, this is right beside a forest. I’m not aware of any damage to our area from fireworks in the past – the fact there hasn’t been is a miracle. But come Monday morning I expect to read reports in the newspaper of damage, injury or even death as a result of fireworks “mishaps” – if not in our area, then elsewhere. I have already heard through the grapevine of a horse with a broken leg, who was injured up north after being spooked by fireworks.

So this is why we are fans of organised fireworks displays – everyone knows where they are, they can plan to keep their pets and animals safe, and the mess is restricted to a single area. There are plenty of organised displays around, so fewer reasons for the peasants to individually celebrate the monarch’s survival in 1605.

Let’s hear it for another law change regarding private individuals letting off fireworks. The only entities profiting from it are fireworks retailers, and fencing contractors, horse owners, equine psychologists, and the veterinarians who end up picking up the pieces.

Read this article for tips on keeping your horse safe this weekend: Guy Fawkes set for even bigger bang than usual

» is asking horse owners to advise of incidents and injuries relating to fireworks. You can post your comments to this article below, and information about accidents, or post on the forums.

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